Words are kind of like kittens. They can be fun and enjoyable and very often cute, but they can also cause a lot of trouble … especially when you least expect it.
The more writers use words, the more they realize how darned similar many of them are in several different ways. First you have the homophones. As much as you may want to raise your skill in writing, synoptic misfires can make you feel like you’re more prone to raze your skills, instead.
There are plenty of the “commonly misused” words to watch out for. Although how a kitten can affect your life when you bring one home can lead to an unintended effect, I don’t wish to imply that Kitty will infer that basket of clean laundry is a world-class litter box.
Sometimes it’s not so much the words themselves that are a problem but the way you arrange them. Dangling modifiers or participles are notorious for messing up your intended meaning. Reading the riot act, the kitten stayed out of the basket implies a cat that can read should know better than to mess up your laundry.
Last, but definitely not least, is the plain old typo that creates a different word and therefore spellcheck won’t catch it. You may be tempted to toss that frisky feline out into the snow, but I recommend you never throw it out into the snot.
Ah, the joys of writing and adopting kittens are not so different after all ….
Now that I have your attention, let’s discuss titles:
People these days, even those who love to read, don’t want to spend a lot of time seeking something to peruse. Besides a good book cover, one way to grab someone’s interest is to have a catchy title. There are several elements to consider.
It needs to give an idea of what the story is about, but you don’t want to give too much away. When Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings as a single volume, the publisher decided to make it into three books. Tolkien was not enamored with the title The Return of the King for the third installment because it gave away the story’s ending.
So-called spoilers might not be so bad, however, in a situation like a historical novel where most people will know what happened, but the journey is the heart of the story. If you title something Lee Surrenders, for instance, we might explore the angst felt by Robert E. Lee at the close of the Civil War.
Or maybe it’s actually a historical romance about a young woman named Lee who must deal with the ramifications when she decides to, well, yield to the guy who’s pursuing her.
Sometimes titles are no more than the name of the main character. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of those: Elmer Gant, Robinson Crusoe and Jane Eyre have developed reputations that keep the likes of literature students reading them, but the mere title wouldn’t have drawn me in. Now if the name itself is colorful, like Odd Thomas, that seems like more of a grabber.
Or you could use a combination of provocative and euphemistic by utilizing a substitute name for your plot device. If I see a title like Mary Jane, I might double check to confirm my suspicion that the story is actually about weed.
If you strive for a catchy title, remember to keep some truth in the advertising. While I preferred my more alliterative designation over Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll for this post, I also admit my final example doesn’t involve rock music.
Hubby and I once attended a show when, while the banjo and guitar players tuned their instruments, the other two band members engaged in dialogue to pass the time. The lead singer announced the next song they would perform would be an instrumental, something very old that also originated in Tokyo.
“What one is that?” the straight man inquired.
“They’re playing the intro to it now.” He nodded toward the other musicians. “It’s called Tu Ning.”
As I beat a hasty retreat, don’t allow that last illustration to spoil your creativity with titles!
Even though it was iniquitous, Norah cursed the Yuri sentinel she crossed paths with a month ago. If it hadn’t been for him, she wouldn’t now be squatting on her knees in a dark accessory chamber that wafted the aroma of her own sweat and blood and amniotic fluid.
Instead of hiding in a rust bucket of a space freighter, she was supposed to be at home with her husband at her side while a human midwife assisted with the birth of their child. Although she was grateful to have Wadima from Karthonatus crouched before her, Norah didn’t bother to ask if the elderly alien had ever before delivered the offspring of a differing species.
Before the next contraction set in, she admitted the pesky Yuri was only a link in a chain of calamities. She set to cursing the Voratene. Norah was only a child when they launched their plan of subjugating the aligned worlds and committed genocide against the one species most likely to stop them.
“Crown.” As a seasoned interstellar traveler, Wadima possessed an impressive grasp of other languages, but was still a minimalist with words.
She’d been helping Norah and her husband Kelwin with evading their pursuers for the past four days. Luckily for them, the Voratene had many enemies. Although the individuals who’d facilitated their escapes had no comprehension why the expecting couple was being hunted, they were gratified to commit any act of defiance against their oppressors.
Even Wadima had little idea that the baby about to emerge had been branded an enemy of the empire a month ago. The Voratene decreed the child must die because that Yuri sentinel “prophesied” the fetus she carried would become instrumental in a successful rebellion.
For many seconds Norah focused on pushing, straining to usher the baby from her warm and protective womb into a cold and hazardous universe. She braced her arms on either side of the tubular structure that served as a conduit to facilitate maintenance on the ship’s systems.
How ironic that Kelwin’s child would be born in an accessory chamber. Her husband was a skilled mechanic who serviced and repaired a variety of astro-craft, and his knowledge of their layouts and hidden corridors were essential to their fugitive status.
As her contraction subsided, Norah gave up cursing and embraced praying. She had been left alone with Wadima because only an hour ago a Voratene squadron boarded the ship to conduct a routine search. They were already hidden, but Kelwin was unwilling to simply hope that his laboring wife wouldn’t be discovered in this dark tube. He left to surveil their movements and, if necessary, divert them.
The next urge to push overwhelmed her, and Norah was grateful Wadima was of a species adapted to low light. To the humans her race was reminiscent of long-necked naked mole rats with large eyes. They even had stubby tails, but those were concealed by the drab, jumpsuit-style garments they wore. Their ability to see well in darkness compromised their color perception.
Norah lost track of how many times she pushed, and Wadima didn’t give any more updates on progress. Her alien midwife blurted something in her native language, and quickly followed with the announcement “Boy!”
The infant squawked and Norah collapsed to a sitting position. “How is he?”
A few seconds passed before she replied. “Strong.”
Norah wished she could see her son, and when Wadima pressed the boy into her arms she snuggled him to her chest. He still only occasionally squawked, perhaps because the darkness was familiar to him.
And then the ship shuddered while a wailing, creaking groan seemed to emanate around them.
She clutched the child tighter and hoped her racing heart didn’t frighten him into crying. “What was that?”
A few seconds passed before Wadima spoke, her tone detached. “Breach.”
Norah clamped her lips together and struggled to swallow the lump in her throat. She heard Wadima tap on the metal around them.
It was more than concern for her son’s safety that terrified her. Yes, these ships were compartmentalized to avoid everybody dying should there be a hull breach, but what if Kelwin had been in its vicinity?
If she lost him, she didn’t know if she could continue evading their pursuers and protect their son. Deep in her heart she knew it would take both of them to sustain this new life she cradled. Tears welled in her eyes as the horror of losing both husband and child overtook her.
Wadima remained silent for what was probably just minutes, but they felt like hours. And then she stated, “Kelwin.”
He had managed to open the hatch door with no noise, and his voice was hushed while he closed it as stealthily as when he entered. “How’s Norah?”
Joy caused her tears to spring loose. “You made it back!”
“I wouldn’t miss this for anything.” He knelt beside her, and Norah fumbled the infant into his arms. She heard Kelwin utter a low, cooing noise as he held the baby.
“Did we have a hull breach?”
“Well, yeah, that was my fault.” There was still awe in his voice. “The Voratene were starting to suspect there were stowaways on board, so I lured them into the ricketiest hold and made sure they had a little accident.”
His report caused a tremor in her chest. Kelwin had always been a practical man, but never before had he ended anybody’s life. His action made her feel as though he’d become a bit of a stranger.
“And therein lies your first lesson,” he murmured to their child. “Never start a fight you can’t finish.”
His paternal advice caused another stir in her chest. The babe in his arms did nothing to start this fight, but she prayed that the Yuri who placed their child’s life at risk would prove to be correct. He just had to survive and grow into the man that would finish it.
Here is this month’s submission to #BlogBattle. Let me go ahead and apologize that I won’t be able to respond promptly to any comments. My internet access has become severely crippled for the next week, so I won’t be getting out much in the meantime. Be sure to check out the other stories!
One of the most satisfying things in life is finishing the draft for a book or story. The work isn’t done, by any means, but something (for me, the hardest part) has been accomplished. You’ve reached a goal. You did something a large percentage of the population has never done.
I like to start off with a celebratory libation, and then use the “time off” constructively during the calm before diving into the stormy rewrite.
It’s recommended to walk away from that story for some extended period of time. Most people advise a month, although deadlines might force you to make it shorter. Regardless, you need to give yourself a chance to create distance so you can return to the project with fresh eyes (as opposed to bleary and bloodshot from staring at the blasted thing).
But what do you do with that grace period while it lasts? As a writer, you don’t want to stop writing. Begin drafting the next book you have in mind? Follow up with some research you realized could fill in details for the rewrite? Work on some shorter pieces? Dabble with a book trailer? Read a book?
(I read anytime, but I do enjoy binge reading between projects. It’s a great opportunity to really analyze how another author wrote something you like.)
Writing is kind of like housework and farming: It’s never done. So although this is an enjoyable hiatus when you remember there is a whole other world out there, you don’t quit writing in the meantime. After all, it’s that darned writing bug that got you into this mess in the first place!